POLITICS

House panel sets contempt vote against Holder

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio

Angered over Attorney General Eric Holder's performance at a recent congressional hearing, a House committee on Monday called for vote next week on contempt of Congress charges against Holder, saying the Justice Department has refused to turn over thousands of documents related to the "gun-walking" undercover operation known as Fast and Furious.

The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee scheduled the vote for June 20 following a contentious exchange at a hearing last week between Holder and committee Republicans, who claim the attorney general is withholding documents in violation of a House subpoena issued in October.

"What members were waiting for was to see was if the attorney general was going to come to that hearing and signal a readiness to show some effort to comply and make additional documents available," a top GOP aide told The Washington Examiner. "He didn't really come to the hearing with anything. And he was combative in tone."

White House spokesman Jay Carney defended Holder's response to Congress, noting that the department has turned over 7,600 pages of documents and had top officials testify for hours before congressional committees.

"Given the Justice Department's efforts to accommodate the committee investigation, I can only refer you to the Republican House Judiciary member who recently conceded that this investigation is 'politics,' " Carney said.

Holder's office did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

A contempt citation against Holder would likely pass the Republican-led House Government Oversight Committee next week, but it's unclear how much further it could advance.

Republican leaders, fearing that a contempt vote against Holder could shift attention away from the party's message on jobs and the economy ahead of the November elections, have been maneuvering for weeks to avoid such a vote.

"It's a careful tightrope walk because Republicans must be focused on economic concerns of voters," said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and former top aide to both House and Senate GOP leaders. "However, Republicans can't let the Department of Justice withhold information on such an important investigation."

Brendan Daly, a Democratic strategist and former top aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Cailf., said a contempt vote would "hurt the credibility of the committee's investigation" because Holder has tried to comply with the request.

House GOP leaders on Monday backed the oversight committee's call for a vote on the contempt charge even while suggesting Holder could avoid it by turning over the documents.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Justice Department is "out of excuses" for not turning over the Fast and Furious documents. Congress "will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt" if Holder does not turn over the requested information, he said.

Issa wants thousands of Justice Department documents dating from February 4, 2011, when the department first denied that Fast and Furious allowed U.S. guns to be smuggled into Mexico. U.S. agents hoped to follow those guns to Mexican drug cartels, but one of the weapons was used to kill border patrol agent Brian Terry.

Issa said last week that he has contact with high-ranking officials inside Holder's Justice Department who claim the attorney general is misleading Congress about the operation. Those officials, Issa said, suggest that department officials knew much more about the gun-walking program than Holder admits.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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